The Republican CNN debate in Las Vegas proved what reality television has known for a long time: it’s just fun to watch people yell at each other.

After the Vegas Phantom of the Opera sang the national anthem, we should have known better than to expect a serious discussion. The debate abounded in yelling. Here are a few quotes: “Rick! Rick!” (Romney) “Anderson! Anderson? Anderson!” (Bachmann) “I suggest that if you want to become president of the United States that you let both people speak. So let me speak.” (Romney, to Perry)

Romney, accustomed to floating atop the debates, suddenly found himself in the mix-up. After neatly eviscerating Herman Cain, who was muttering perplexing things about mixing apples and oranges and saying his tax plan would replace everything with oranges (I am only partly joking), Romney found himself on the defensive about his own healthcare plan. Santorum, as usual, phrased the attack best, sometimes while Romney was still speaking (Rick! Rick!) and Perry joined in (Let me speak!). Pile-On Romney was the unofficial theme of the night, with everyone talking over him as he appealed to the adult in the room to make them wait their turn. The trouble with swinging by the kids table is that in no time at all you start to sound like a child yourself.

Perry seemed able to speak in complete sentences and didn’t bump into any furniture, but he kept attempting to insinuate that Romney was the nation’s primary employer of illegal immigrants in a way even the audience felt was beneath him. Given that past audiences at GOP debates have suggested letting the uninsured perish on hospital steps, this is saying something. But he won’t be eliminated this round.

Bachmann, in classic reality TV style, announced that Obama “put us in Libya. He’s now putting us in Africa,” causing Twitter to explode in indignation, after we quickly Googled the location of Libya to make certain we were right. This might be the week she goes.

If anyone ever doubted that Herman Cain knew what he was talking about, this debate must make you feel vindicated. Between babble about apples and oranges, telling the audience to visit and consult his analysis, urging viewers to do the math for themselves (given how good most Americans are at math, this is guaranteed to prevent our ever discovering whether or not 9-9-9 works) and saying that when he said earlier that he might authorize a trade of Guantanamo prisoners to Al Qaeda in exchange for hostages, he thought that they meant some other Al Qaeda, he did not make it easy to take him seriously as a candidate. But watching him squirm made for good fun.

Gingrich provided a few enjoyable lines, describing himself as a “cheap hawk” (most hawks shop at Tiffany’s without the discount) and suggesting that the debate format be changed to 3-hour Lincoln-Douglas-style smackdowns for the general election, which would allow him to win by default because the entire viewing populace would shudder and simultaneously give up the ghost. For a rotund veteran of the Clinton era, he’s proved surprisingly entertaining.

And that’s what the evening was about: entertainment. At the rate things were devolving, The Situation seemed certain to arrive and suggest everyone hop into the hot tub. I half expected Cooper to murmur “You Are The Weakest Link, Goodbye” and Santorum to vanish. If it came down to audience favorite, we’d be stuck with him until the bitter end. “Keep him,” the producers would say of Gingrich and Cain. “I want to see what he’ll say next.”

I take back what I said about the Republican debates. Boring? Repetitive? Nonsense. I just hadn’t gotten to the good episodes. This one, where Anderson Cooper sowed discord in the house, and everyone yelled over each other and you sensed patriotic ties growing damp with perspiration, was one for the memory books.

Substance? Gingrich had best not prevail with his idea to switch back to the Lincoln-Douglas model. This was better than America’s Next Top Model. This nearly reached the level of Cupcake Wars. And the hair was far better. I kept expecting the camera to pan out and show that Anderson Cooper was cowering under a desk as the shrapnel fell around him.

Still, I shouldn’t have been surprised. They always pull out all the stops for the Vegas episodes. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for next week.